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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Whole-Book Context (Part 1 of 2), by Craig S. Keener

So James offers a solution demanding from them three virtues: endurance (1:3-4), wisdom (1:5), and faith (1:6-8). They need God’s wisdom to properly endure, and they need faith when they pray to God for this wisdom. James returns to each of these virtues later in his letter, explaining them in further detail. Thus he deals with endurance more fully near the end of his letter, using Job and the prophets as biblical examples of such endurance (5:7-11). He also demands sincere rather than merely passing faith (2:14-26). What he says about faith here is instructive. Some of the poor were tempted to lash out and kill their oppressors, and might think God would still be on their side so long as they had not committed sins like adultery. But James reminds them that murder is sin even if they do not commit adultery (2:11). The basic confession of Jewish faith was the oneness of God, but James reminds his friends that even the devil had “faith” that God was one, but this knowledge did not save the devil (2:19). Genuine faith means faith that is demonstrated by obedience (2:14-18). Thus if we pray “in faith” for wisdom, we must pray in the genuine faith that is willing to obey whatever wisdom God gives us! We must not be “double-minded” (1:8), which means trying to embrace both the world’s perspective and God’s at the same time (4:8).

James especially treats in more detail the matter of wisdom. He is concerned about inflammatory rhetoric—the sort of speech that stirs people to anger against others (1:19-20; 3:1-12). This does not mean that he remains silent toward rich oppressors; he prophesies God’s judgment against them (5:1-6)! But he does not approve of stirring people to violence against them. James notes that there are two kinds of wisdom. One kind involves strife and selfishness and is worldly and demonic (3:14); this is the sort of view and attitude which tempts his readers. James instead advocates God’s way of wisdom, which is gentle (3:13); it is pure—unmixed with other kinds of wisdom—and peaceable, gentle, easily entreated, full of mercy and the fruit of righteousness which is sown in peace (3:17-18). His readers were tempted to use violence (4:2) and desire the world’s way of doing things (4:4). But rather than taking matters into their own hands, they should submit to God (4:7).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2004

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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